Rethinking Design Through Building

From the dawn of the Age of Man, furniture design came a long way… and then it went a long way away. Sitting down on a flat log was once considered innovative. In contrast big box furniture design is cheap, ugly, unreliable and expensive. On top of it all they usually expect you to build it yourself. So now every goober with a cordless drill and a Skilsaw thinks she can design and build better wood furniture. Guess what? You can.

What Might You Need Besides an Electric Drill and Saw?

I recommend using a speed square or carpenter square to ensure that factory edges, found edges, cuts and assembled joints are straight and square (90 degrees). If you plan on using angled cuts and joints, the speed square is invaluable. A countersink bit or countersink pilot bit sharpens up the look of simple fasteners such as exposed black drywall screws. Unless you assemble every joint with dowels or carve furniture from a single log, you’ll need to choose fasteners as well.

While we are going over the obvious, it couldn’t hurt to use a tape measure or old fashioned carpenter’s ruler. You could make your own measuring stick(s) – just be sure to have a tool for obtaining and marking accurate dimensions. Which leads to a tool for marking whether it be a carpenter pencil, pencil, pen, or marking blade. Finishing options will be discussed at the end of this article.

Gravity determines everything about the way humans interact with objects and space. Gravity is expressed in the vertical line, and without it we wouldn’t have the horizon expressed in the horizontal line. When furniture is designed well, gravity and horizon work in harmony to create a functional plane of rest. This is the simple origin of the right angle. We didn’t discover it; it was simply always there.

Where do we see vertical expression in furniture? Legs bring the forces down towards the center of the earth. In his way, we design furniture in the image of Man. Sometimes gravity is not as obvious: the sides of a bookshelf express gravity, but you usually cannot see the vertical lines when you view the piece from the side. From the front, you see the lines carrying the load down to the ground. Now imagine a wooden pot rack above a kitchen stove: verticality is only expressed in the hooks and cables reaching up for support in the ceiling.